crunchy happenings

Truthfully I felt for a bit that talking big about crunchiness in my blog title was a bit of a sham. I was driving to work in my (fairly fuel efficient but still combustion-engine powered) Camry, alone, thirty minutes each way, each day. I was turning to fast food (agh!) for like the first time in my life, plowing through milkshakes (agh!) on the all too frequent occasions that stress compelled me. I was vegetating in front of Netflix every night in exhaustion. And loving on the crap-packed, ostensibly “fortified” packaged foods too much.

Fortunately, I now have a job where I take a free public bus back and forth to work nearby. OR walk. Walk! Happily, crunchily walking home from work is so much easier and more pleasant now that spring has (knock on wood) sprung.

Blossoms everywhere…

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Referred to in cheeky street art (there’s this abandoned building that people have turned into basically a public outdoor art space. I love it so much).

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(I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees)

When I walk around the neighborhood, along with having houses I deliberate stop by because I know I have good odds of encountering a friendly, pet-able dog or cat, I also have a number of places where I can visit chickens.

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On the one hand, I love walking close to the coop because I can see the hens up close and they make those charming burbling noises. On the other hand, I feel totally dishonest and shady because they just want me to give them snacks.

There are also deer everywhere again. There’s nothing inherently crunchy about living in a neighborhood with deer… but I love living in a place where it feels like I’m at a summer camp in the woods.

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More crunchy activities:

1. I started oil pulling.

Persistent yellow stains on my teeth from when I had braces (particularly on my left front tooth), plus sometimes jaw pain from grinding my teeth at night (bad!), plus me buying into the totally anecdotal data about allergies improving, plus evidence that coconut oil is indeed antiseptic= trying oil pulling.

Was trying to do before and after pictures so I could track my progress but… all pictures of teeth look like pictures of teeth. Here is a picture of my teeth.

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2. I TRIED HOT YOGA! The story is that I was researching yoga options after taking a wonnnnderful class while home with the family. I found a local studio that has $5 classes every Monday (!!) and convinced my roomie to go with me. However, I was wicked nervous about the whole thing- I felt like hot yoga was like yoga only more hardcore. Fortunately, my bestest friend Lydia answered the phone when I called in a state of panic, and talked me down, reassuring me that actually the benefit of hot yoga was that it makes you more flexible than you normally are! Which, indeed, it did. I found it challenging but enjoyable. The instructor was this perfect little yoga hottie in her sports bra and leggings and I felt some real angst and discomfort about my body, but I decided that it was probably a healthy feeling to sit with and think about. A yoga studio is probably one of the safer spaces one can use to work through your history of body angst.

3. I’m continuing to try to make natural deodorant happen.

Brand A:

toms deoderant

Pros: smells like delicious apricots, does a pretty good job of preventing stinkitude, goes on clear, good ingredients.

Cons: I found it at a random thrift shop in Winston Salem and don’t know of any non-expensive stores that sell it here. Also, I just thoroughly cleaned my room and can’t find it.

tjs deoderant

Pros: I can find it (it is on top of my dresser, where the stupid Toms stuff should be). Sold at Trader Joe’s.

Cons: Makes me smell like something curled up and died in my armpits. I can’t understand it. It smells fine in the stick, and there’s nothing inherently horrifying about my armpits (or so I hope; anyway, it hasn’t manifested itself with any other deodorant) but it is just not doable.

Recommendations of aluminum-free deodorants welcome!

Now, I must do a DIY indoor arboretum project with my roommate, and finish boiling dried garbanzo beans on my stove. Both true. Ta ta!

home is where the heart is

My heart manages to feel at home in many places.

Here in lovely Carolina, where the people are friendly and everything is cheaper.

In my hometown of Spokane, Washington, where I fly in to the airport and look down at the pointy mountains and deep lakes and evergreens and feel something wonderful and peaceful happen to my heart.

And, this past weekend, staying with my mama and my little sis. How can I count the ways it was wonderful? Listening to my mom happily wandering around the house singing Greek hymns and Debussy compositions. Remembering the taste of Korean spicy tofu soup, a flavor that sums up Northern Virginia as well as anything else. Laughing hysterically with my little sister as we do impressions of our father, who seems to be clinically unable to talk about anything other than his dog, the weather, and Obamacare. Doing YOGA for the first time in ages (a gift from my mother at the fantastic studio where she goes) which in a single class convinced me that my sanity, back, and abs require me to investigate some local yoga options. Strolling on my favorite trail as an endless stream of families with adorable babies walk by. Going to church and singing prettily in the choir with my pals, exchanging knowing looks with my sister when the tenors, as usual, seem hopelessly lost.

Seriously, thank God I have all this love in my life. Thank God I live somewhere pretty and peaceful, and so healthy for me and what I value right now. And for Steve, who told me to drive straight to his place when I got back to NC and then fed me his delicious invention of Hawaiian tacos (seared pineapple, mm) and then told me how much he missed me. Thank God my dear family is a relatively painless four hour drive away, and are so wonderful to visit with and talk with and laugh with. And thank God for secure attachment, as the psychologists call it, which means I get to go out and see the world and try new places and new things but still feel like there’s this love and safety I get to walk around with everywhere I go.

chicken dinners

It is slightly silly of me to be posting these things during Lent, a time in which I eschew meat. Still, I was pleased with both of these meals and want to share them despite the fact that I was too scatterbrained to do so til a time when I wouldn’t be eating ‘em for awhile. Make ‘em now, or bring ‘em out again post-Easter.

So. Fabulous Chicken Dinner Number One.

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One component of the dinner I’d made spontaneously earlier in the week, and threw on the table, delighted with my domesticity for having a homemade loaf of bread casually hanging around the house. That bread was Mark Bittman’s Yogurt Bread, an amazingly simple and delicious specimen. No yeast to fiddle with. Whole grain. I didn’t have cornmeal, so I used all whole wheat flour, plus a bit of vital wheat gluten for tenderness. I also didn’t have whole milk yogurt, so I used nonfat with a few glugs of olive oil. It was delish. 

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For another side, I baked butternut squash with just butter and cumin on top. This is something my mother came up with. Not the most intuitive combination, but so so simple and good.

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As an extra special treat, I had some leftover heavy cream in the fridge from a decadent somethingorother Steve had made earlier, so I made creamed kale! This was SO GOOD! I just sauteed some onion in a bit of olive oil, wilted in the kale, then cooked it down with some heavy cream and nutmeg. I don’t think I’ve ever made really creamed anything in my life, and I will tell you now that the rubbish with the skim milk and flour does not compare.

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And finally, of course, the piece de resistance, the chicken itself.

Step 1: Buy a good chicken. This one was from the farmer’s market. It wasn’t cheap (duh) but I’ve opted to eat less meat and feel more confident about where I buy it. Plus, it just tastes more chicken-y. If you like super bland boneless skinless chicken breast (and no judgment here, because I’ve gone through phases of my life where I’ve preferred it; I just like a little gaminess now) it might actually be too much for you. This chicken was already in pieces. You can also, of course, buy a whole chicken and butcher it yourself.

Step 2: Egg dunk it. I mixed up 2 eggs and a few glugs of milk.

Step 3: Bread it. I mixed together breadcrumbs (just regular, no need for fancy panko), paprika, and grated parmesan

Step 4: Bake it. I used a broiler pan, and sprayed it generously with a layer of olive oil cooking spray. Then I added the chicken and sprayed it even more generously with the cooking spray. Then I used a 400 degree oven. Baking time depends 100% on the size of your chicken pieces. Predictably, the thighs took longer than the wings, which were done pretty fast. Small chicken means very little wing meat, oh but what good wing meat it was. And there was an extra crispy crunchy skin to meat ratio. Nom nom nom.

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If I’d bought a huge meaty grocery store chicken instead of a lean farmer’s market one, I’m sure it would’ve taken longer too. I find the point where it starts smelling extra delicious to be a pretty good indicator of when it’s done.

And oh, was it delicious.

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Crunchy, flavorful, moist and tender. I hadn’t ever made oven fried chicken, but was so craving junky food I went for it, despite my skepticism of how good it could be compared to Popeyes. I was delighted to’ve been proven wrong.

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Steve’s plate, for the money shot, because I give him great big portions from the get go 🙂

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This wine, a gift from friends, was great with it.

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It is very rare that my plate looks like this at the end of a meal!

I just got in there, man. Fingers and teeth and everything. It was deeply satisfying!

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For a day when you have a little less time to devote to cooking, another, simpler chicken dinner.

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I roasted this chicken, which is what I more typically do.

I decided that I was too lazy to brine it (and lacked the right size bowl anyway), but decided to experiment with salting it, which I’d heard recommended. So I rubbed a good amount of sea salt around its skin, and let it sit for awhile so the skin dried out (all the better to enable it getting wonderfully crackly later). Then I rubbed the skin with olive oil, paprika, and dill, and let it bake in the oven (without basting, which I’ve come to believe, based on a lot of chefs’ opinions I’ve heard, isn’t worth the amount of cold air it lets in the oven). The moisture level was comparable to brining, and the skin was yummy!

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These roasted veggies were a tasty mixture of carrots, sweet potatoes, and turnips. Just roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, and balsamic.

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That white stuff is a fun little casserole doodah. I took leftover rice and cooked it up with some onions and kale in chicken broth I’d gleaned from poaching the bones of the previous chicken, above. Cheese on top, of course.

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Steve is always so sweet about patiently waiting for me to take pictures of food before he eats it.

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springtivities

I was all excited to write a post proclaiming that spring had sprung, winter was gone, and it was all sunshine from here on out. And now there’s freezing rain forecast for tonight and tomorrow’s HIGH is 32 degrees.

So, whatever. Here are some things that make me happy about spring-ish-ness-maybe.

First, hiking! Erin, who did Americorps with Steve and I back in the day, was on her grad school spring break and visited NC. Here she is looking charming at the top of Hanging Rock, a hike near Winston Salem.

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Sweet views.

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But I ended up with CRAZY VERTIGO! It’s funny, because I’ve done the rock scramble up Old Rag and thought I had a pretty good hiking tolerance, but these angles totally messed with my head. We were speculating how the designs in the rock ended up so fluid looking- could they have been carved out by a glacier?

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Another thing I like to do when spring (ish) arrives is go for long walks. I’m deeply, DEEPLY missing having a pet. I firmly tell myself that my apartment is way too small and boring to keep any animal happy. Still, I wander the neighborhood petting random people’s pets.

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Steve has opted to name this Siamese “Mac and Cheese”. Goof.

Finally, picnics! I’ve actually had a few picnics lately. Many of them have escaped photos, but this was a great one that I captured.

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Number one awesome thing about this picnic was that it was on a weekday, and any fun dinner on a weeknight feels extra indulgent.

Number two awesome thing, it was just my roomie and I, so we could eat totally girly food and not worry about it being stick to your ribs filling.

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The meal consisted of Waldorf salad (left over from a 1920s themed potluck), celery sticks with yogurt dill sauce and smoked salmon (mm!), and cornbread.

Alli contributed the wine. I contributed the Samoas!

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Finally, another example of al fresco dining necessitating mention is Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Any locals know that it is absurd that I have not mentioned this establishment before now.

So here it is. A Sunrise biscuit. Lovingly eaten in a parking lot.

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beautiful wilmington

Wilmington, North Carolina is a very very fun place to visit.

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Let me recount the joys the boyf and I took in.

First, I think Wilmington is the perfect distance away. When traveling, I think it’s satisfying to spend a certain amount of time on the open road, registering the fact that you are LEAVING your ORDINARY ROUTINE and going on VACATION! However, from the Triangle, Wilmington is also a relatively brief 2 and a half hours. That means that you don’t have to take leave from work, and can leave Saturday morning and come back Sunday afternoon and feel pretty balanced.

Second, Steve and I arrived during a spot of traffic, and learned when pulling over that Wilmington has DAZZLING thrift shops! The one we popped in on had an enormous selection of clothes and jewelry scattered haphazardly in front of their storefront that were all $1. I bought this fab ring and a few other things.

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Then, we hit up the aquarium. Anyone who’s read this blog for awhile (or has met me) knows I have a slight aquarium obsession. This trip was particularly fun because we met up with my cousin Elisabeth, her husband Carl, and their cutie pie four year old daughter Melina there.

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Then, because it was in the mid-sixties (in the end of February. Yknow. Because North Carolina has the best climate ever!) we went for a nice long strollsie on the beach.

The beach we went on our first day was at Fort Fisher, around the corner from the aquarium. Apparently people aren’t supposed to swim there because the tides are dangerous. Watching them hit the rocks was gorgeous.

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Self portraits!

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Another one by a fun tide pool!

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And the boyf, taking it all in.

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There was a pretty small crowd on the beach. That couple had the most adorable teenage dog.

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And a man with a fancy camera was photographing the adorable sandpipers.

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They really are dear little birds. They always look busy and slightly preoccupied.

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Before we went to Wilmington, Steve talked a big game about doing a polar bear plunge. I’m pleased he changed his mind and didn’t get hypothermia. Sticking a toe in was plenty cold.

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We balanced on stones and watched waves crash in underfoot.

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It was a wonderful day at the beach.

After (somewhat) rinsing the sand out of our shoes, we met Elisabeth and the fam once again for dinner at Dock Street Oyster Bar.

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Specials!

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(Steve ordered that Mardi Gras shrimp special. WOW THAT WAS A GOOD CHOICE! I had plate envy).

Naturally, we had to start our meal with some oysters. Steve and I split this appetizer, oysters with stuff on ‘em. (Not what they actually called it :D) I am actually kind of an oyster purist, so I let Steve eat a bit more of this fancy stuff.

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Wilmington in the evening. ARE WE STARTING TO SEE THE DAWSON’S CREEK SCENERY, GUYS? (Don’t worry, we’ll talk a lot more about the fact that I was walking the same streets as Pacey Witter. Don’t worry.)

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Fast forward to the next morning in our purdy B and B.

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Our room was gorgeous!

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My one disappointment was that Steve had gone out of his way to get a room with a clawfoot bathtub in the bathroom because I’m so obsessed with awesome baths… and then it totally didn’t work! The plug didn’t plug and the hot water ran out almost immediately. I mentioned it (politely) as we were checking out, and the owner was all, “You should have just come down and knocked on my door! There was just an ornamental plug but if you pulled the lever and then there’s the backup water pump in the closet and blah blah blah” WHY WOULDN’T YOU TELL US ALL THIS STUFF WHEN WE CHECKED IN?! AND HOW DID WE KNOW YOU WERE AVAILABLE FOR QUESTIONS AT TEN THIRTY AT NIGHT?

Anyway, it was still a nice place. And had an INCREDIBLY COMFY bed on which I slept like a CORPSE! I’m not sulking that much 🙂

Plus, we got to enjoy a breakfast by candlelight in the beautiful dining room

(UM, JUST NOTICED THERE’S DEFINITELY A GHOST SITTING IN THAT CHAIR, GUYS!)

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Breakfast in multiple courses. Talk about classy.

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The breakfast entree was this fab cranberry-almond french toast.

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Okay now let’s admire some pictures taken along the river walk in Wilmington that were TOTALLY PICTURED ON DAWSON’S CREEK AT SOME POINT PROBABLY.

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I kept trying to find the high up bar from which Abby fell to her death in Season 2. And I couldn’t. It was sad. Abby was an awesome secondary character and I wish they had kept her around.

The natural beauty there is lovely.

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There were lots of pretty old buildings and alleyways in which to duck and meander.

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I took the pictures of this boutique entirely for Lydia. LYDIA THIS IS EMILY HOWARD’S BOUTIQUE, RIGHT?! (If any of you other readers happen to be Little Britain fans, right on. Right on.)

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AGH DAWSON’S CREEK MEMORABILIA IS JUST RIGHT THERE GUYS.

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The inside of the cute little tourist trappy downtown market.

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More Riverwalk views.

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Ice cream. As second breakfast, or possibly elevensies. Steve and I split this, and in all honesty it was actually our second trip to Kilwin’s… we went the night before too 😀 They make the most amazing homemade waffle cones that make the inside of the shop smell like heaven. This was a double scoop: salted caramel and pecan praline. I mean come on.

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Amusement.

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Then it was time for another fun day at the beach! Wrightsville Beach, this time.

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Complete with nutso surfers/paddleboarders. No thanks.

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Nature’s pedicure. It was like 74 degrees on our second day there. Such a treat to get to wear shorts and stick my toes in the sun when so many are still suffering in the throes of winter.

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Fun nature and people watching on the pier.

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And cool visuals beneath.

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Photoshoot!

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I was standing right about here, while Steve was kind enough to retrieve the car since I’d been using my shoes to hold the seashells I’d gathered and didn’t want to walk back barefoot and yada yada he’s a nice guy I’m rambling.

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So I was standing right here and saw DOLPHINS! And then Steve pulled up and I said DOLPHINS, GET OUT OF THE CAR RIGHT NOW! And we both got to admire the dolphins. But since everyone knows that it’s impossible to capture a moving animal in the water from many many yards away (as anyone who’s ever tried to take good pictures while whale watching can attest) you’re just going to have to trust me.

Sunshine is so great for the soul. This was such a lovely lovely getaway.

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Last stop before hitting the road was lunch. We stopped at the cute King Neptune.

An attempt to get vegetables in my system, since they’d been a bit lacking, ahem. Steve and I split this.

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Steve got this newborn child sized sandwich.

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And I did the damn thing and got this platter. The flounder was meh but the shrimp very good and the scallops excellent.

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ingredients for a fun weekend

First, invite some pals over for a Friday night sushi rolling dinner.

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Myra’s a vegetarian, so I did mostly veggie fillings (plus a little smoked salmon for the omni’s). Selections included English cucumber, avocado, carrot, omelet, sweet potatoes, and tofu as well. And Steve made Sriracha mayo, which he loves.

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Steve also has a talent for rolling inside out sushi rolls. They used to really intimidate me, but they’re really not very hard. You just need a SHARP knife to cut them! Serrated is good.

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Then, go on a fun outing. We went to CAROLINA TIGER RESCUE YESSSSSSS!

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Carolina Tiger Rescue is a totally rad organization that rescues poor animals from sketchy roadside zoos and tiny backyard pens and the like. Explain this to me: in North Carolina, you cannot own any native species, but you can own any exotic animal you like. In other words, possums no, tigers yes.

Two of the tigers were found as cubs wandering on the side of a highway in Charlotte. The 911 dispatchers got a call and were all, “yeah right”, til people kept calling.

The tigers are BEAUTIFUL, and you get to get quite close to them.

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These two lions are both boys, but they got fixed, and apparently male lions in the wild only have manes to get the ladies.

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The wildcats were amazing. This girl paced back and forth, unbelievably alert, because she knew when she saw people and they stood in front of the tube, she was getting snacks.

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This is another cougar; she does not care for visitors. She made disdainful cat faces.

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And then cat snarls. So we left.

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The ocelots were goooooooooorgeous. Poor things get killed for their beautiful pelts. These ones don’t often end up as pets, though, because they are STINKY!

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This white tiger is one of their stars. Sadness: wild tigers in the wild are INCREDIBLY RARE. Most of the ones you see today have one common ancestor. Mohan was born in the wild in 1951 and then bred and bred and bred and bred and all of the white tigers he produced (mostly from mating with his daughters, ugh) kept getting inbred with each other. So like 17 out of 20 tiger cubs born now have horrible birth defects. All so zoos and weird people can have an exotic looking white tiger? Awful.

But this guy was indeed beautiful, and didn’t have too many health problems. But he’s 16 now! Old man cat!

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He really really really enjoyed the attention and snacks.

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Note the Christmas tree. Lots of the cats had them- the keepers put in new materials and smells to enrich the environment and keep the animals’ minds stimulated.

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It’s such an odd mixture of feelings, looking at a tiger. You think they’re gorgeous. You think how much they remind you of your cats at home. And you think how capable they’d be of killing you very quickly and easily.

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The lions were absolutely beautiful, especially this dude.

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The reason the boy and the girl are able to share a relatively small enclosure is because she’s fixed.

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At one point, a piece of the snack got stuck (the volunteer guides put pieces of raw chicken on sticks and pass them through the fence).

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Not a problem. I can get that.

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The two seemed to get along well in a platonic sort of way.

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We also saw caracals (with the cutest tufted ears) but they managed to escape my camera.

Here’s a serval.

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So seeing these amazing animals and supporting a really great organization cost slightly more than a movie. A great way to spend a Saturday!

We were right near downtown Pittsboro, so we visited their lovely bakery.

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And I ate an exquisite coconut cupcake! Lovely weekend.

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storm after storm

Since Winter Storm Number 92837839382923 is beginning at the moment, I thought it was an apt time to chronicle how I’ve been enjoying the other nasty weather.

This has become a common sight:

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Which is to say, teleworking, monitoring weather.com, and eating oatmeal.

This has become another common sight:

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The breezeways in North Carolina are an absolute godsend in the summer. However, in the winter, they mean that snow blows into the hallway directly outside your apartment. It’s disconcerting.

We’ve started a slightly irresponsible but exceedingly fun tradition of going to my neighbor Nick’s to veg out, watch movies, and drink a bit more than is advisable on weeknights during these winter storms.

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By far the highlight so far was when Steve disappeared in the middle of a deluge, insisting he wanted a Subway sandwich, and returned on skis.

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I take any opportunity I can get to eschew regular meals (which again, is sort of a poor decision). This right here represents my ideal midday experience:

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Kale chips, hot chocolate, and crosswords.

Or, for a bit of variety, artichoke and mayonnaise and hot chocolate. Noms.

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I made Steve a more well rounded meal- I’d made some oven-friend tofu earlier in the week (since I had leftover paprika spiked breading from oven fried chicken) and used it, a good amount of salsa, and some cooked kale to make Steve some pretty awesome tacos.

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Steve reciprocated by making me a delicious snowy day dinner.

Amaaaaaaaaaazing grilled cheese sandies.

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And soup!

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With more avocado, because I WANT TO EAT ALL THE AVOCADO. It’s really doing it for me this time of year.

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Note that I have taken to wandering my apartment wrapped in a blanket. It feels right.

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See? Another blanket, along with Snack Heaven Lunch.

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That glow in the background demonstrates the tons of snow outside.

The bread and cheese is left over from a getting into UNC celebration dinner at Oakleaf, probably the best meal I’ve ever had. Amazing food, and beautiful and elegant but somehow simultaneously rustic and comfy atmosphere.

This is yummy bread, and a variety of delicious cheeses with local honey drizzled atop. I could eat this every day. I love bread and cheese so much.

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Now that I’ve chronicled all the nice coziness, I’ll show you the totally depressing statistics the electrical company has so kindly included in our bill. Our bill is more than four times as high as it was in October. I mean COME ON THAT IS DEPRESSING.

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